Breaking Down the Upside Currently Fueling JaMarcus Russell's Comeback Attempt
Shedding weight and a re-dedication to the game aren't the only reasons why former No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell is coming closer and closer to completing his comeback attempt.
A quarterback stuck in a defensive end's body, with natural arm talent that rivals any in the NFL and a quick, effortless release, Russell possesses the kind of unteachable upside that can keep even the greatest of draft busts alive in the NFL conversation.
Now over three years removed from his last NFL game, Russell has used that upside—combined with getting back into shape with a variety of specialists at the TEST Academy in California, as documented by Aaron Nagler of Bleacher Report—to help springboard renewed interest in his services at the NFL level.
The top pick in the 2007 NFL draft by the Oakland Raiders now hopes to have an eventual tryout with the Baltimore Ravens after impressing during a workout for the Chicago Bears last week, per Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun. No official tryout has been scheduled, but the possible interest is just another positive sign for Russell's comeback attempt.
However, it's unlikely such a comeback could have gotten off the ground without Russell's rare combination of natural attributes.
His unique size immediately jumps off the screen, even without throwing a football.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in 2007, Russell stood an impressive 6'6" and weighed 265 pounds. To put that size combination into context, note that New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul stands 6'5" and weighs close to 275 pounds.
While standard for a defensive end, quarterbacks are rarely made in Russell's mold.
Any quarterback can add or lose weight (Russell is down 50 pounds since starting his comeback, per Marc Sessler of NFL's Around the League), but approaching Russell's size is all but impossible for 99 percent of the position's history.
Such a titanic frame remains appealing to today's game—not only for making it harder on the variety of pass-rushers to sack the quarterback, but also to view the entire field over the offensive line.
Russell will clearly have no problem shrugging off weak sack attempts (Roethlisberger has made a career off extending plays with his big frame) or seeing over even the biggest of NFL offensive linemen.
However, size only matters for a quarterback if the arm can deliver a football with NFL quality.
Those working with Russell still believe he possesses one of the biggest arms in the game, even without throwing a live pass in over three years.
According to Brian Martin, the founder of the TEST Academy, Russell's arm strength compares favorably to any of the quarterbacks currently in the NFL.
His arm strength is incredible. He's right there with Joe's [Flacco] arm strength as far as being able to get it down the field. He's got great touch. He spins it well consistently and he's accurate.
Arm strength, as a base concept, must first be put into context.
There's raw arm strength, which can be loosely defined as the quarterback's ability to throw the football a considerable distance down the field. Famed for being able to throw a football over 70 yards while on his knees, Russell certainly possesses this area of distance arm strength.
However, the more important aspect of arm strength derives from the ability to make every NFL throw, or hit the entire route tree.
Even a simple out pattern requires a level of strength, where the quarterback must fit the football into a tight window in a short amount of time. A breaking in-route 15 to 20 yards down the field might require the quarterback to deliver a throw on a line and into a tight window. Weak-armed quarterbacks struggle with these routes in the fast NFL game.
There's obviously much more to possessing NFL-quality arm strength than just winging the football 70 yards down the field.
And to this point, Russell is working with former NFL quarterback Jeff Garcia on fixing the mechanics of his delivery to help translate the down-the-field arm strength into a dangerous intermediate weapon.
"Can't get lazy with your feet," Garcia told Russell during the fourth episode of Bleacher Report's series. "Your feet are going to help with your accuracy, your consistency."
Garcia is also working on Russell's weight transfer as he finishes his drop and delivers the football. Both changes can help Russell throw with the kind of strength and accuracy needed at every level of the field.
But even before the needed tweaks, Garcia saw a natural arm talent with an NFL-ready release.
"When we look at his throwing motion, his mechanics, he is very effortless, he has a great release, it comes from that three-quarter motion," Garcia said. "He does not wind up on his throws, and the guy can flick it, with a lot of rotation on the ball."
Should JaMarcus Russell get another shot in the NFL?
Release point and delivery should help Russell's case, as NFL teams won't have to do much tinkering once (or if) he arrives in a camp. From a throwing standpoint, he should be much better off now than he was entering the NFL back in 2007.
All three of these areas—NFL size, arm strength and release—give Russell tremendous upside as a passer. That potential is a big reason why Russell was the No. 1 pick in 2007, when there wasn't the internal drive or support system with the Oakland Raiders to make good on the upside.
Now, the upside is paying off in the form of a second chance.
All 32 teams were on hand for Russell's fallout, in which he threw 23 interceptions from 2007-09 and was out of the NFL after just three seasons. But those same teams could see all the rare physical tools and the untapped arm talent go to waste in a bad situation that deteriorated quickly around him.
In 2013, Russell is no longer a threat to any of the league's 32 starting quarterbacks. Put into the right situation, however, and the upside that continues to keep Russell relevant in the NFL can help turn around his draft-bust narrative.
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